Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

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Evangelicals at Seminary

Last year 72% of all Protestant seminary students in Canada studied at seminaries that called or advertised themselves as evangelical. In a country where Protestant evangelicals are at best twelve percent, that almost three quarters of Protestant seminary students chose to study in evangelical schools is startling. (493 students attended Roman Catholic Seminaries, 1202 at old Protestant seminaries—Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Unite Church—and 1655 at evangelical seminaries, all accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. The numbers are full time equivalency: FTE.)

It is important to also note that the above numbers do not include some ten Christian universities—with XXX students—that identity as being evangelical, and Canadian Bible colleges—with 3920 students—a community clearly evangelical who supply personnel to many churches and missional agencies.

In identifying these stats, my only interest is to see the true state of preparedness within the Canadian church. In attempting to make sense of these numbers, it needs to be pointed out that the lines between the old-line Protestants and evangelicals are not always clear. There are many evangelicals—churches and some schools—within the old-line Protestant community.

After abdicating any serious role in higher education in much of the twentieth century, evangelicals are back in the game. For much of last century we had little interest in issues other than churches and missions and certainly little in educating the mind beyond a Bible school level preparation. Even though we were rather successful with that, it became obvious that if we were going to seriously engage in the larger issues of society we need to give young people an opportunity to wrestle with matters of the mind to better prepare them to address matters of the heart.

So in the late 1960s Regent College set up shop, setting a high standard of biblical and theological scholarship followed by Tyndale in the mid seventies. Now there are eleven seminaries with an evangelical tilt.

On the university side, it was Trinity Western University that led the way, followed by Redeemer and Kings University Colleges. Today there are ten sprinkled across Canada.

Seminaries generally—Regent advertise themselves as the “unseminary”—focus on training minister and missional leadership. While many lay persons attend, the constraining seminary is to raise up new generations to serve in church and missional leadership.

If one extends current numbers of old-line seminaries out twenty years, there is an obvious warning. As baby Boomers retire, who will fill their ranks? If their current church attendance numbers continue to slide, there will be less demand for ministers. Will they be forced to close down churches as they see their source of funding diminish and lose capacity to fund ministers and staff and refurbish aging structures? In their search for ministerial leadership will they fish in evangelical pools, even as some are dong today? And if they do, will the evangelical message be accepted?

On the evangelical side, even though numbers in seminaries and universities are growing, if not holding steady, we are falling behind in supplying sufficiently qualified leadership. One example: in the Greater Toronto Area, the Chinese community reported to me this spring they had openings for more than seventy five personal. For many immigrant communities, there is a dynamism to their life and witness and an accompanying growth in church plants and actual congregational size all requiring more seminary grads.

It is crunch time. As president of one of Canada’s largest and oldest seminaries, I feel the strain of meeting this growing need for able and passionate leadership. Yes we are pressed on one side to adequately compensate good scholar/teacher/mentors and the other to keep tuition levels in line. However those issues must not keep our eyes off the goal. The church moves forward with able and effective leadership.

I am amazed at the creative new ministries popping up across the land. We need to train innovators with a spirit of faith and creativity. Congregations continue to need those with a clear biblical vision and a heart to lead the people of God. I can’t see far beyond the present. But I can see the incredible need of nurturing Christ-centred leadership so the issues of this coming age and generations will be met by men and women trained to lead the people of God forward.